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Cynara cardunculus

Cardoon

In the depths of winter when there’s little else to entertain, this is a marvellous change from the usual evergreen blobs. Massive architectural stems hold aloft these sculptural pincushions right through the worst of the weather. Even better are the downy tufts of golden fluff that sit inside, adored by the birds for winter nest material, and beautiful when the sun catches them, too. They’re mostly gone by this time of year – though you can see some of the effect here:

As you can see, the resident flock of bluetits (and sparrows, and starlings, and robins…) have had their chunk, but isn’t that butterscotch yellow gorgeous against a blue winter sky?

As if all that wasn’t enough, cardoons hold a rosette of serrated, sword-shaped slate-green leaves at the base all winter, which then develop into even more stately beauty next year. I love cardoons at any time, but now they take centre stage and I appreciate them more than any other plant in the garden. You can’t ask for more than that.

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